Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Problems with Participles

While living here in Indianapolis, I have been going to a Bible study on Hebrews. This week we will be discussing chapter six. In my reading, I was reminded again how decisions about grammar can impact meaning. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a single sentence with seven participles (eight if you count the implied one) that pose some interesting problems that significantly impact the meaning of the sentence. This highly debated New Testament sentence provides a good example of how sometimes, it is the decisions about grammar that impact translation and interpretation the most. My goal here is not to solve these problems, but to illustrate the need to make well thought out decisions in our study of New Testament grammar.

The first issue is the issue of the main verb. The primary verb is implied. The actual sentence has verbal ideas only from participles and one infinitive. The infinitive is adverbial and completes the idea of the main verb. The main verb is implied and, in my view, the verb “to be” makes the most sense. So, the primary phrase is 

[εστιν] αδυνατον ανακαινιζειν παλιν εις μετανοιαν 

The phase could be translated something like, “It is impossible to renew again to the point of repentance…”. What does εις μετανοιαν/to repentance mean? That is for a different discussion. What is important in this discussion is that we have our primary clause. In the passage it is interesting that five participles separate the “it is impossible” and “to renew again…”, but that is also a discussion for another time. There are five participial phrases that form the direct object of the infinitive ανακαινιζειν. The first participle is clearly a substantive – τους απαξ φωτισθεντας, “those who were once enlightened”. The article and the participle are both masculine, plural, accusative and the next four participles do not have articles. However, I see them as all substantives governed by the same article as the first. Each participle is also masculine, plural, accusative. Each participle is also aorist – matching the first, and each participial phrase is separated by a conjunction (τε or και). The single article governing a list of participles connected by conjunctions forms a tight block of text. Since each of these participles are aorist, they have an antecedent verbal idea. So, the author is saying something like this, 

“For, it is impossible to renew again to repentance the one who was once enlightened and tasted the heavenly gift and became a participant in the Holy Spirit and tasted the good word of God and the power of the age to come and fallen away…”. 

Wallace suggests that this last participle (παραπεσοντας fallen away) could be a conditional and translated “…if they fall away.” That is possible, but since it is in the sequence of participles in aorist tense, separated by conjunctions, it is also probably also governed by the same article as the others and hence a substantive. In other words, the author uses six attributes (as opposed to five plus one conditional) to describe the person about whom it is impossible to restore to repentance.

One of the key questions is, “Who is the author talking about”. It is difficult to imagine a clearer description of a believer. It is harder still to imagine this list of attributes being used to describe one who only pretends to believe. But, I’ll leave that discussion for others.

Next is the hard part. We have two adverbial present tense participles - ανασταυρουντας εαυτοι τον υιον του θεου και παραδειγματιζοντας. The present tense forms a strong contrast to the previous aorist tense participles and match the present tense of the infinitive. That means that they are connected with the meaning of the main verb. The contrast of tenses was probably not an accident and brings out the imperfective aspect of the participles. The question is, are they temporal or causal. The decision made here has a significant impact on the interpretation. 

If we understand them as temporal, we can translate them, “…while they are crucifying the Son of God to themselves and publicly putting him to shame.” The idea is that while they continue this action, they cannot be restored. Implied is the hope that if the offenders change their actions (stop crucifying Him to themselves and putting Him to open shame), then restoration is possible. The temporal option give hope and doesn’t demand the loss of salvation.

In contrast, if we understand them as causal, the picture is much bleaker. As causals they could be translated, “…because they are crucifying the Son of God to themselves and publicly putting Him to open shame.” The implication here is that their state is a done deal and they cannot be restored – there is no hope. It is even stronger if we take the present aorist as a gnomic – “…because they crucify the Son of God to themselves and publicly put Him to shame.” the causal option leaves no hope and demands either the loss of salvation or that the author is describing people who only gave the appearance of being saved.

So, which is correct? or better said, which did the author have in mind? Good question and beyond the scope of this post. I just wanted to highlight the connection between decisions about grammar and interpretation. I will leave the hard decisions to others.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Childbearing: Reflections on I Timothy 2:15

A former student sent me a question.  He asked, “How do you understand “the childbearing” in I Timothy 2:15”?  Short answer: “With difficulty”.  Long answer:  This is a complicated one, so I thought I’d share my thoughts with the four or five of you who read this.

In order to address this question, I think that at a minimum we need to address the immediate context, the range of word meanings, Paul’s understanding of salvation, the OT reference and finally Paul’s audience.

The immediate context is not without difficulties but in general is clear.  Paul is defining gender roles and proper behavior when believers gather together.  He is writing to Timothy to assist him (Timothy) in his task of correcting certain doctrinal problems in Ephesus.  This tells us a few of things.  First, this applies to gatherings of believers.  He is talking to and about men and women who follow Christ as their savior.  Second, the reference to women is in the context of Christian gatherings, not specifically to roles of wives and mothers.  Third, this is to correct some issue or issues in the gatherings in Ephesus. 

There are a couple of difficult words here.  The first is the word for salvation.  It can mean spiritual salvation or deliverance from an immediate danger or problem.  If Paul means deliverance from danger, then there should be some reference to the problem.  This seems to be absent.  Perhaps we can say that the problem is the strife in the community meetings, but it is difficult to see how childbearing would deliver women from that.  Thus, by the process of elimination, I will assume that Paul has spiritual salvation in mind.

The second difficult word is the word for childbearing.  This is the only New Testament usage in the noun form, so we don’t have much help from New Testament authors.  It is singular and part of a prepositional phrase.  The preposition phrase denotes “means”.  It could be rendered something like “by means of childbirth”.  In this case the singular takes on a collective meaning.  Or it could be rendered something like, “by means of the childbirth”.  The definite article is present and this would preserve the singular number of the noun, but it changes the meaning to refer to a known specific birth. 

Whatever the meaning, the grammar of the prepositional phrase (δια της τεκνογονιας) tells us that this is the means of the salvation.  The tense and voice of the verb, σωθησεται - future passive, tell us that the subject, “woman”, is not the active agent in her salvation.  The active agent comes from the prepositional phrase.  So, whatever we conclude, the woman must be passive in her salvation and the noun of the preposition phrase must be the active agent.

Even though the noun in the prepositional phrase δια της τεκνογονιας means something like “childbearing”, I think it is safe to say that Paul does not mean that women are eternally saved through giving birth to children.  That would present some significant theological difficulties.  First and foremost, it would present a means of salvation other than by grace through faith.  It would also present a separate means of salvation for men and women.  Further, it would seem to violate what Stott calls the “principle of harmony” - that the Bible is word of God and thus does not contradict itself.  It would seem to be inconsistent with the way Paul interacts with women like Priscilla, Lydia, Euodia and Syntyche. There is no mention in any of his interaction with these women about salvation through having children.  We also come up against the problem of single women.  If women are saved through giving birth, what of those who are not married?  Should they have sex outside of marriage, so they can have children and be saved?  In Paul’s words, “May it never be!”.  If he doesn’t mean that women are saved by having children, then what does he mean?

The OT reference may provide some further insight.  In the context of I Timothy, verse 2:15 is a contrast to a historical argument from Genesis 3.  Paul makes the point that in the garden of Eden the woman was deceived, and it is implied that paradise was thus lost.  Then, in 2:15 Paul says that she will be saved δια της τεκνογονιας.  The parallel to the Genesis story seems pretty obvious to me.  In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve sin, God pronounces the curse and then immediately, in Genesis 3:15, pronounces the hope of future salvation through the descendent of the woman who will crush the head of the snake.  As Paul writes, this flow of logic would be fresh in his mind.  In I Timothy 2:15, he simply finishes the thought of Genesis 3 in his modern terms.

If this is the case, then a translation something like, “but she will be saved by means of the birth [of the child]…” fits very nicely.  I admit that it is not the most natural meaning at first glance, but when we consider Paul’s audience, it seems to me very probable.  This is late in Paul’s ministry.  Timothy has been his disciple for some time and has grown to the point where Paul trusts him to correct false doctrine in Ephesus.  He and Paul have a deep history together.  With this in mind, it is not difficult to see that in a personal letter, it would not be unreasonable for Paul to expect Timothy to understand an indirect, yet poetic, reference to salvation through Christ.  This “δια της τεκνογονιας” could even be language the that Paul and Timothy had used together.

Next, we must say a few words about the phrase, “if they continue in faith, love and holiness”.  As evangelicals, we are very sensitive to anything that may indicate salvation by works.  So how are we to understand this conditional statement.  Put more formally, this is a third-class condition, which broadly means that the author is expressing uncertain but likely fulfillment.  It is like a proverb.  If you act this way, that will most likely be the result.  Paul presents this kind of formula:

If they (women) continue in faith, love and holiness, then they will be saved δια της τεκνογονιας.

I think this is a reference to what Carson calls, “the persevering quality of saving faith” or the like.  In other words, faith that saves is faith that perseveres.  If we mix in the third-class condition, Paul is saying that most likely their faith will persevere.  It is an encouragement.  It is probably an over-translation, but you could almost say, “since they will continue…”

Finally, the phrase, “with a sound mind” is probably a reference to Paul’s argument in 2:9-12.  There he describes behavior that results for sound thinking.

So, what did Paul mean by σωθησεται δια της τεκνογονιας?  A possible over-translation to make the point to our ears today could go something like this:

"But, she (the woman) will be saved by means of that specific birth of the child referenced in Genesis (i.e. Jesus and implied: just like all mankind), since they will continue in faith and love and holiness with sound minds (in line with what I was talking about earlier).”

Hope this is helpful, my friend.

Monday, March 20, 2017

I Told You. I Exist. John 8:25

To keep up in politics, I often listen to NPR Politics Podcast.  They have a segment every Thursday at the end of the podcast called, “Can’t let it go.”  It is when they talk about something they just can stop thinking about – politics or otherwise.  This blog is my current, “Can’t let it go”.

A colleague and friend came into my office the other day and asked a question about a New Testament text.  He told me the text and I first looked at it in English – the ISV.  It was John 8:25. The ISV says, Then they asked him, "Who are you?" Jesus told them, "What have I been telling you all along?  My friend asked something like, “What is the connection between this verse and Exodos 3:14?  Someone else had asked him and he didn’t know the answer.  I read the verse again and was confused by the question.  Then I read the Russian Synodal translation.  It reads, Тогда сказали Ему: кто же Ты? Иисус сказал им: от начала Сущий, как и говорю вам.  The last part translates something like, “[I am the One] existing from the beginning, as I have already told you.” or maybe, “…as I am telling you.”  Well, I thought to myself, that is a pretty big difference.  There must be a reason it was translated this way in Russian.  I know that translations can sometimes be wrong, but, I don’t like to criticize them because for the most part they are often very good.  Also, for most people, their translation is the only Bible they have.  If I undermine people’s confidence in their Bible, I am doing damage to the Kingdom rather than helping to build it.  So, how do I disagree with a translation and not undermine confidence?  Good question.  My answer is by trying to understand how the translators came to their conclusions.  That way I can say that even if I disagree, it is still a good translation.

Back to John 8:25…my first thought was that there is probably a textual variant.  I looked at my UBS text and here is what I found, “ελεγον ουν αυτω, Συ τις ει? ειπεν αυτοις ο Ιησους, Την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν? There is a variant.  The relative and indefinite pronouns, ο τι (that, which), in some manuscripts are combined into the conjunction, οτι (that or because).  That is significant, but it doesn’t help me see where the translation “the One existing” – Сущий came from.  So, I told my colleague that there was probably a textual variant that is not listed in the UBS.  I will have to check my NA at home.  That is exactly what I did, but it wasn’t much help at first.

The problem phrase is Jesus answer, “την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν”.  The verb and indirect object are clear – “I am saying to you”.  The problem is the accusative, singular, feminine noun την αρχην, the relative pronoun ο, the indefinite pronoun τι and what to do with the conjunction και.  How do those go together with the main phrase?  We can add to the mix that instead of ο τι, some manuscripts have οτι with is translated either as “that” or “because”.  At this point, as I continued to not let this go, I reached out to several friends in the field for help.  Their input was very instructive.  Thanks especially to Dr. D.A. Black (Brother Dave -

We can confidently translate λαλω υμιν as “I am telling you” or “I have been saying”.  This is a present tense verb and communicates the idea of continuous action in the present.  “I am telling you now.”  την αρχην can be translated, the beginning, severally, altogether, essentially, first of all, in the beginning.   If we take την αρχην as “the beginning” and ο τι as “that, which” and then και as “also” instead of “and”, then, because “the beginning” implies something that started in the past, we can imply an extra verb “I was telling you”.  Then we can bring it all together as something like, “I am telling you [now], that, which, [I have] also [been telling you from] the beginning.”  The UBS and NA have a question mark at the end of verse 25 and the TR does not.  If we rephrase the translation as a question we have something like, “Am I not telling you now, what I have been telling from the beginning?” or “How is it that I even speak to you at all?” (cf. Westcott, Milligan and Moulton from  This second one requires ο τι to be οτι and translated “that”.

Another option could be if we supply the verb “I am (εγω ειμι)” and take την αρχην as “essentially”, then we could translate Jesus’ answer as, “I am essentially that which I even speak to you.”.  We can even drop the “I am”, smooth out the English and have a dialogue something like this.  Scribes and Pharisees, “Who are you?”  Jesus, “[I am] essentially, that which I am telling you!” or “essentially, that which I have been telling you! (implied: all along!)” or the like.

A further option would be to supply the verb “I am” in between την αρχην and ο τι.  This is not unreasonable, because John attributed the same phrase to Jesus in the previous verse, “…unless you believe that I AM (εγω ειμι) then you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24).  If we supply την αρχην [εγω ειμι] ο τι και λαλω υμιν, (cf. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191) then we can translate the phrase something like, “I AM the one from the beginning, as I am telling you.” or “…as I have been telling you.”  This seems to be the way the translators of the Synodal understood the verse and it is reasonable.  Metzger also points out that some of the Old Latin, Vulgate, and Gothic translations read “Principium, qui et loquor vobis”, which is very close to the Russian translation.  It is possible that the Latin translation had some influence on the Russian translators. (cf. again Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191).

The Russian translation could also find further support from some church fathers.  If again we supply the verb “I am (εγω ειμι), the passage can be rendered something like, I am the beginning, that which I am even saying unto you [now]. (see Augustine, Bede, Lampe, and later by Wordsworth and some older commentators from

Therefore, while I don’t agree with the Synodal translation, I can still confidently say, that I understand why the translators made the decisions they did and that they are reasonable decisions.

I personally prefer a translation something like I wrote above, “I am telling you [now], that, which, [I have] also [been telling you from] the beginning.”  This option translates την αρχην as “[from] the beginning”, και as “also”, supplies “now” and the verb “telling you” a second time. There are at least two reasons I lean toward this meaning.  First, it seems too soon for Jesus to repeat the “I AM” statement.  Although, I will admit it is possible.  A frustrated, “I am not changing what I have been saying...” type of answer seems to fit the context better.  Also, according to the NA27, Bodmer Papyrus II P66 adds ειπον υμιν to the clause in a marginal note.  That produces a reading like this, [ειπον υμιν] την αρχην ο τι και λαλω υμιν.  That phrase would clearly translate something like, “I told you in the beginning, that which I am also telling you now.”  (cf. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, second Edition. p. 191).  In other words, the scribe of P66 clarified a difficult sentence and made it unambiguous.  P66 is a late second century/early third century manuscript found in Egypt that probably preserves an early second century (or so) reading.  This scribal “correction” tells me that in the late second century, in Egypt there was some confusion about the meaning of this sentence and at least some understood the sentence as “I told you from the beginning…”.  That is good evidence from Greek speakers who were closer, chronologically, geographically, culturally and linguistically, to the original document and context than we are.

Finally, I want to answer my friends original question.  No, I would not use John 8:25 as a reference to Exodus 3:14.  However, this is not a big deal because I think you can use either John 8:24 or 8:58 from the same dialogue as a connection to Exodus 3:14.  However, there are some nuances to this and a detour needs to be taken through the LXX and Isaiah.  But that is a different post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Same God Debate

My son recently posted an article from Christianity Today ( and some comments on Facebook about the recent “Same God Debate”.  I began to respond to some of the comments.  However, since my comments became a little too long for a Facebook post, so I decided to write a blog post instead.

Good article and glad that the debate is including missiologists.  But it seems to me that this debate has happened before.  I agree that there is much common ground between Islam, Christianity and Judaism – the “Abrahamic Faiths”.  It is important to find common ground between Christianity and any other worldview.  That point of connection may very well lead to the explanation and eventual acceptance of the Gospel.  However, just as correlation does not necessarily mean causation, common ground does not necessarily mean common nature or common object of worship.  It also seems to me that Paul addressed a very similar debate and had a very clear answer in the first century.  On the surface and in some very basic truths, just as Islam and Christianity has common ground, so does Judaism and Christianity.  We both accept the Old Testament as revelation from God.  We both agree that God is one.  God is the creator.  God is the sustainer.  God is the ultimate judge.  God is sovereign, all powerful, all knowing and so forth.  So what is the problem?  The problem is not belief in or zeal for God, the problem, in Paul’s words is zeal for God “in accordance with full knowledge”.  That full knowledge is embodied in Christ.  In writing about his “brethren according to the flesh”, to the Roman church, Paul says, “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God about the Jews is that they would be saved.  (2)  For I can testify on their behalf that they have a zeal for God, but it is not in keeping with full knowledge.  (3)  For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness.  (4)  For the Messiah is the culmination of the Law as far as righteousness is concerned for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4).  Paul continues to explain what he means in chapter 10 and his argument culminates in phrases like, “If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10:9)” and “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (10:13)”.  It seems to me that just as Paul captured the key difference between Christianity and Judaism in the first century, he may have also nailed the key difference between Islam and Christianity in the 21st century, “For they are ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God while they try to establish their own, and they have not submitted to God's means to attain righteousness. (10:3)”.

Paul makes it clear that as much as there is in common between Judaism and Christianity, the key difference is “God’s means to attain righteousness”, which is “the end of the Law with respect to righteousness” which is “Christ”.  In other words, in Paul’s mind, there is only one means of salvation and that is Christ.  This was also clearly stated by Jesus Himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through Me. (John 14:6)”.

So, while we may agree that there is one God, that He has revealed Himself in the Old Testament, He is the creator, etc., we do not agree on His “means to attain righteousness” and to Jesus and Paul, this is the fundamental truth on which salvation – reconciliation with God rests.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What does it mean to αυθεντειν a man?

Earlier this year I was confronted with one of those questions that prompted a strong desire in me to change the subject.  I was able to avoid the question for a while but it kept coming up in different situation with different people.  The question was something like this: “What does Paul mean when he writes ‘I do not allow a woman to have authority over a man”?  In other words, “What does it mean to αυθεντειν a man?”  I didn’t want to give a definite answer until I, at a minimum, did a casual study of the passage.  However, the more I looked at I Timothy 2:9-15 and specifically I Timothy 2:12, the more it seemed that almost every word, structure and grammar point of I Timothy 2:12 is debated (διδασκειν δε γυναικι ουκ επιτρεπω ουδε αυθεντειν ανδρος, αλλειναι εν ησυχια.).  We can add to this debate issues concerning cultural scope, audience and OT background.  Following is a list of just some of the questions that came to my mind:
  • Is Paul talking about women or wives?
  • If what Paul says in 2:9ff is strictly cultural and applies only to first century Ephesus, what textual clues tells the reader that this is so?
  • Are the instructions for men in 2:1-8 also not relevant for today or do they only apply to first century Ephesus?
  • Since we know that Paul had no problem with women prophesying and praying at public Christian gatherings, what does he mean by the term typically translated “remain quiet”?
  • Are the two infinitive two separate actions or does one compliment the other?  In other words, is there one or two prohibitions here?
  • What does he mean by the prohibition “to teach”?
  • What does he mean by the verb typically translated “to have authority over a man”?
  • How is Paul using the Old Testament in 13-15?
  • When Paul writes what is usually translated something like, “a women shall be saved by the bearing of children…” what does he mean?
Since my casual study turned into an overwhelming number of questions, I decided to start with, what I though was, the easiest question.  Paul uses the word αυθεντεω only here in the New Testament and since there was much debate about the meaning of the word, I planned on doing a simple lexical study.  I reasoned that a study of this type would clarify things a little.  I started in the usual way.  I did a survey of the entry in BAGD.  Since I Timothy 2:12 is the only place it is used in the New Testament and it is not common in the Old, the entry was short.  Next, I surveyed various commentators and soon realized that most of the lexical work was already done.

At this point, I was distracted for a couple of months because we were moving back to Odessa, Ukraine.  However, now that we are here in Odessa and I am having trouble sleeping, I think it is a good time to finish some of my thoughts.

After reading several commentaries, the most common translation of αυθεντειν ανδρος I read was “have authority over a man” or the like.  Kostenberger and Schreiner are a good representation of this translation and the rational behind it.  They looked at 85 different uses of the word in both the verbal and noun form from the New Testament, Old Testament, secular material and early church fathers.  Their research spanned a timeframe that includes the OT usages up to the sixth century AD.  Here is an example of their conclusions.
Upon analyzing these eighty-five currently known occurrences of the verb αυθεντεω, it becomes evident that the only unifying concept is that of authority.  Four outworkings of authority are reflected in the distinct meanings of the verb.

If out of the 85 known uses of the word “the only unifying concept is that of authority”, I was convinced that “have authority over a man” was a good translation of what Paul meant.  Further, as I continued my research, Douglass Moo convinced me that I was on the right track.  He says,

Translations of this Biblical Greek hapax range from the simple “have authority” (NIV; NASB) to the more nuanced “dictate” (Moffat) to the remarkable dissimilar “engage in fertility practices.”  …While the evidence is not extensive, the information outlined above allows for the fairly certain conclusion that αυθεντεω in I Tim. 2:12 must mean, “have authority.”  This is the meaning of the verb in one of the two pre-Christian occurrences, in the second century, and in the Church Fathers.  Furthermore, whatever the etymology of the noun be, it is clear that its meaning in the Hellenistic period was most often “master, authority.”

I have a lot of respect for both Kostenburger and Moo and their arguments were ringing true.  Moo makes a very strong statement when he says “…that αυθεντεω in I Tim. 2:12 must mean ‘have authority.”  It is both the only unifying concept and Moo added that “This is the meaning of the verb in one of the two pre-Christain occurrences.”   Case closed – the meaning must be “have authority”.  Then I decided to read one more commentary. 

I had never heard of Leland Wilshire, but I picked up his book.  He had a suggestion that messed with my thinking.  He suggested that since the only significantly unclear use of the word αυθεντεω was Paul’s use, we should limit our lexical study of the word to citations during the four centuries surrounding the New Testament period.  This made a lot of sense to me.  It seems more than reasonable that 200 years before and after Paul should provide us with a good idea of the semantic range of the word during Paul’s lifetime.  Languages and the range of word meanings are always in flux.  There are many examples of how words change their meaning over time or how their range of meaning widens or narrows over time.  Sometimes this can even happen during a generation.  I myself can think of several examples of words that have changed meanings during my lifetime.  I read Wilson’s analysis and followed his advice.  I made a timeline of the 85 occurrences, who used them and what the word meant.  I was surprised at the results and found myself persuaded by Wilshire’s arguments.  He says in part:

An analysis of this list shows that one can find very few citations during this four century period surrounding the New Testament that have the meaning of “exercising authority,” “holding sway or using power,“ or “being dominant” (the one citation from papyrus #1208 is in a variant form authentekotos and the word in Ptolemy is the variant authentesas).  Although one faces a frustrating mixture of contextual meanings at the time of the New Testament, the preponderant number of citations from this compilation have to do with self willed violence, criminal action, or murder or reference to the person who does these actions.

As I looked at my timeline, I couldn’t help but agree with Wilshire’s analysis.  I am not sure how he defines “very few citations”.  There are some usages that fall into the semantic range of “have authority”, but even most of those are second/third century.  As I further considered the data of that 400 year period, two things became very clear.  First, from the second century BC to the second century AD, the word αυθεντεω had a wide and somewhat bizarre semantic domain. The idea of “exercising authority” is included in the range of meaning, but so are ideas like the following (I will try to list them in semantically connected categories):

  • doer of a massacre, murderous, slayer, murderer
  • killer of self, being one’s own murderer, suicide
  • criminal, author of crimes, perpetrator of a crime, supporters of violent actions
  • perpetrator of sacrilege
  • builder of a tower
  • sole power, authority, to control, to dominate, to exercise one’s one jurisdiction, master

Second, starting in about the fourth century AD, where most of the 85 examples are from, the meaning is almost exclusively connected with authority.  This is not to say that the data was somehow skewed in favor of the meaning “have authority”.  It is simply that around the fourth century the word became more common.

That tells me a couple more things.  First, before the fourth century, the word was not a common word.  Second, something happened in the fourth century that both made αυθεντεω more common and narrowed the meaning of it to ranges connected with authority.  Third, during Paul’s time, the range of meaning of the word was very broad indeed.  Fourth, if we look at about 1000 years of evidence, the majority of meanings is “have authority”.  However, the majority of those usages occur 350 to 400 years after Paul.  If we remove the later usages, then we have no clear single meaning.  So where does that leave us?

Paul chose to use this word in place of his usual word for “authority”.  If we assume that he did this intentionally, it is reasonable to assume that the word αυθεντεω had a nuanced meaning that better fit what he wanted to communicate than his usual word εξυσια.  That fact alone throws doubt on the meaning of authority for αυθεντεω.  Second, we cannot come to a confident conclusion that Paul meant, “have authority” simply based on the number of uses.  During his time, the meaning of the word was not that clear or set.  Third, if Paul did indeed mean something like “have authority,” he probably had a nuanced meaning that this word communicated.  What is the nuanced meaning?  Good question.  I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with violence and authority.  

So, what have I learned here? Maybe I should first say what I have not learned. I have not learned a clear meaning of what it means to αυθεντειν ανδρος in Paul. If I have contributed in any way to this discussion, I think, what I have done is ruled out that “to αυθεντειν a man” means simple to “have authority over a man.” Whatever Paul is saying is, at a minimum, more nuanced than that and possible quite different.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Attendant Circumstances (Great Commission Revisited)

After my last blog about the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, a friend of mine read it (thank you very much for being one of three) and sent me a comment. He said that I failed to interact with Wallace’s argument that the participle should be translated “Go”. Oops, I thought, I did miss that. I didn’t realize that Wallace did have an argument in his grammar specifically stating that Matthew 28:19 should be translated “Go”. So, with a bit of wounded pride, embarrassment and some fear and trepidation, I read Wallace’s argument. Actually, I was excited to hear a good argument for the “Go” translation. Happily, I found one in Wallace that both affirmed my thinking and gives reasons for a “Go” translation. He calls this an “Attendant Circumstance” participle. I didn’t know what that meant either. Wallace defines it as a participle used “…to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. In this respect it is not dependent, for it is translated like a verb. It is translated like a finite verb connected with the main verb by “and”.” He later adds, “If a participle makes good sense when treated as an adverbial participle, we should not seek to treat it as an attendant circumstance.” 

Wallace is simply saying that the participle, πορευθεντες, can be translated as a verb, “Go”. I actually didn’t dispute that in my original post. I said that the translation “Go” is permissible but maybe not the most accurate expression of Matthew’s thought. I do think it can be translated as “Go” but my contention is that the verbal idea can be better expressed in English than using two imperatives.

Since attendant circumstance participles are rare, Wallace also offers five criteria to determine if a giving participle might fall into this category and Mathew 28:19 meets all five. They are as follows:
  • The tense of the participle is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The tense of the main verb is usually aorist. Check. 
  • The mood of the main verb is usually imperative or indicative. Imperative. Check. 
  • The participle will precede the main verb. Check. 
  • Attendant circumstance participles frequently occur in narrative. Check. 
We are five for five, so Matthew 28:19 could be an attendant circumstance. That means that “…we must argue from sense rather than from translation.” and “… the relative semantic weight in such constructions is that a greater emphasis is placed on the action of the main verb than on the participle”.

Since Matthew chose to use a single imperative verb preceded by an aorist participle to convey Jesus command, the question is, "What is the sense of the command and how do we best express that in English? If we accept that this is an attendant circumstance, then according to Wallace, we agree to the following:
  • We have a participle being used to communicate an action that, in some sense, is coordinated with the finite verb. 
  • The semantic weight of the construction should emphasize the main verb. 
  • We must argue from sense rather than from translation 
  • and, I would add, that Matthew chose this construction over two commands. 
The sense is that we have a primary command with a very closely tied verbal idea from the participle. Can we combine those in such a way in English so that the command “Make disciples” is prominent and “Go” is closely tied but still secondary to the command? Do we have a structure in the target language (English) to communicate such an idea? I see two options.

The two command option:

We can use two commands “Go and make disciples”. While this is permissible, in English both verbs “go and make” have the same semantic weight. One could even argue, and many sermons bear this out, that the command “go” receives the greater semantic weight because it is the first command. This does not seem to completely line up with what Matthew wrote. As I argued in the previous post, Matthew could have used two imperatives. That would have been common, acceptable Greek. In that case, the sense would have been “Go and make disciples”. We essentially have a functional almost exact equivalent in English. However, this is not the case. By translating the attendant circumstance as two imperatives we are removing the nuance of the Greek construction. In other words, by reading the translation, we cannot determine if the original was two commands or a participle command.

The assumption – command option:

If we translate the participle as an assumption, I think we better capture the sense of what Matthew wrote. By way of illustration, I imagine that I’m sitting at the dinner table with my family enjoying a meal. Near the end of the meal, it comes to my mind that someone should clear the table and do the dishes. I might say to one of the children. “After you clear the table, wash the dishes.” The command is “wash the dishes”, but there is an assumption that before washing the dishes, they will clear the table. It is almost stronger than a command because there is no real opportunity to refuse. I could have said, “Clear the table and wash the dishes.” The semantic content is essentially the same but when I use a single verb, “wash”, the participial phrase, “after you clear the table”, is an action coordinated with the main verb and the semantic weight falls on “wash”. This structure seems to be in line with what Matthew wrote. The verbal idea of going is coordinated with the main verb but the semantic weight falls on “make disciples”. This can be done in English by what many have called the “Great Assumption”. In Jesus’ command to make disciples, the idea of going is assumed. “Since you are going [anyway], make disciples” or “After you have gone [aorist participle], make disciples.” Again, there is no opportunity to refuse to go. It is simply assumed that you will go.

In summary, I have no problem with calling Matthew 28:19 an attendant circumstance. I also have no problem with translating the participle as “go”. I simple think that translating Matthew 28:19 as the Great Assumption closely coordinated with the Great Commission, keeps the emphasis on the main verbal command and lines up very well with the sense of what Matthew wrote.